I’ve never visited Los Angeles, only seen it on television and in movies, but I find it amazing how it can be made to look different nearly every time I see it.
We have classic movies like Sunset Boulevard, shot when that road ended in a wilderness dotted with the occasional mansion, or L.A. Confidential, which exposed an even darker side of that halcyon orange-grove era. It seems to me that L.A. doesn’t generally add that much to a movie’s atmosphere, it’s the generic Hollywood backlot, and more memorable American thrillers have been improved by being set elsewhere in America: The French Connection in Chicago, Dirty Harry in San Francisco, Scarface in Miami, and just about all of Scorsese’s output in New York.
That has been changing, and we have seen films make better use of L.A’.s strengths, and I don’t just mean Beverly Hills Cop. I was introduced to the moodier side of L.A. by Heat, Michael Mann’s 1995 thriller that took its protagonists all the way from Venice Boulevard, past the fashionable side of Santa Monica, up through Beverly Hills into the San Fernando Valley; down to the Long Beach docks, with a major shootout at Fifth and Figueroa (downtown), and a final chase from an airport hotel on to the airport itself. Mann’s recent Collateral revisited the same city from different angles, using a different nocturnal palette. Steve Martin’s L.A. Story took a wry look at covered the posh areas, while Speed presented a more coherent daytime L.A. landscape, also passing through LAX, besides turning Sandra Bullock into a “poster girl for public transport” (her words).
If I was to visit L.A., not knowing how to drive, could I get around with public transport and taxis? In L.A., public transport is for losers, apparently, too slow and dirty for the average person, but could it be worse than London’s underground and buses? Looking at a map, the scale of L.A. is deceptive to a Euro-peon such as myself. I’ve been playing with Microsoft MapPoint 2004 to try to make a little sense of it all, and it tells me that the “short drive” from the city center, up the Hollywood Freeway, along Santa Monica Boulevard through Beverly Hills to Santa Monica, is nearly twenty miles long, so walking around, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, would probably be as smooth and straightforward for me as it was for him.
In other news: today Elvis Presley scored the dubious distinction of having the UK’s 1000th Number One single; it’s telling that it took sales of 30,000 to get to Number One last week, compared to 300,000 back in the late 1960s. BMG, who owns the rights to the Presley catalogue, is making some kind of point by re-releasing one Elvis #1 single a week, for the next few months. I think it’s called milking a dead horse, or something. Blah.